By now it’s common knowledge that prolonged sitting is harmful to our health. Headlines such as “Is Sitting is the New Smoking” and “Is Sitting Killing Me” have alerted the general public to the negative effects of sitting all day – from to weight gain and fatigue to muscle tension and low back pain.
Fortunately, research shows that a few simple changes in daily routine, especially at work where many people spend the majority of their time, can help prevent and even undo the damage.
This includes modifying our work areas with sit-stand options to allow standing throughout the day.
There is a body of research evidence that shows standing intermittently has benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, better glucose and weight management, and likely reduced discomfort with no decrease in worker performance and no changes in cognitive process. Obese individuals have greater health outcomes than non-obese individuals. In my opinion, the most noteworthy findings to motivate employees and companies to explore the benefits of a sit-stand office were whether standing negatively impacted productivity and whether it would enhance movement.
Sit-stand adjustable desks or tabletop units can be beneficial, but employers should consider criteria to determine if they should be recommended to all or selected employees
There are several medical conditions that may be a contradiction for standing. Health professionals recognize that spinal conditions such as spondylolysis, and arthritis may worsen with standing activity. In order to rule out spinal or cardiac concerns, a physician’s clearance or recommendation for a sit stand adjustable desk would be prudent.
Additionally, outfitting employees with a sit-stand solution doesn’t necessarily mean they will maximize it. A healthy back, during standing in neutral position, experiences less compressive forces than in sitting. However, it takes more energy to support the curvatures of the spine and it is nearly impossible to maintain perfect or neutral posture for prolonged periods of time. In standing, gravity forces the body weight of the employee to be concentrated on the lower legs and feet. As a result, it can cause muscle fatigue and stresses to the body and the employee might revert back to sitting for longer periods.
Routine education and activities to help employees identify neutral postures, signs of fatigue, and proper adjustment of the workstation can help decrease fatigue, daily stresses and tension. Employees can benefit from breaking up sitting postures every 30-45 minutes with one-minute standing “Ergo Breaks.” This sit-stand interval cycle can vary based on individual factors and is best determined through training and experimentation over several days to weeks.
In many workplaces where a significant amount of work is chair-based, employers should look for solutions to support movement. Offering sit-stand desks or table top units may make a great solution, however it shouldn’t be seen as the answer for everyone. Media and research reports are raising concerns about the physiological risks of prolonged sitting as well as prolonged standing. Due diligence must be done to select and train employees in the utilization of the sit-stand adjustable desk.
Optum’s On-Site Ergonomic Solutions provide processes and engagement activities to support healthy ergonomic behavior. As the workforce and resources evolves to support business and operations, our ergonomic solutions are designed to address the well-being and safety of organizations and their employees.
About the Author:
Susan Sells, P.T., C.E.A.S.
Ergonomist, Optum On-Site Ergonomics
Susan Sells is a practicing physical therapist with over 22 years of experience and more recently has expanded her services to include ergonomics. As part of Optum’s On-Site Ergonomic Solutions, Susan focuses on educating employers and employees that cumulative stresses on the body over time can cause injury and limit peoples’ ability to enjoy work, hobbies, sports, and even normal daily activities.
She has worked on the West and East Coasts in a variety of different settings, including consulting with several multi-national companies preventing injuries and optimizing work place ergonomics. She recently has worked to develop and implement a web-based ergonomics program to allow companies to more effectively dissipate information to their employees.
Forbes. Is Sitting The New Smoking? Accessed 12.13.16. http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2015/01/13/is-sitting-the-new-smoking/#3f58babc239a
Time. Sitting is Killing You: The War on Sitting. Accessed 12.13.16 http://time.com/sitting/
Hum Factors. 2014 Nov;56(7):1249-61. Postural variability: an effective way to reduce musculoskeletal discomfort in office work. Davis KG, Kotowski SE. Accessed 12.13.16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25490805